Angela Sawyer’s 14x 15 record store is filled wall-to-wall with CDs and vinyl records. Slouching intently over her cash register Sawyer is nonetheless a picture of calm. While most longstanding record chains in Boston have closed in recent months, Weirdo Records is a sudden success.
Since the early rise of e-commerce, record stores have long had the reputation for being outdated. But as retail stores plummet because of the recession, niche market shops can perhaps remain strong due to their loyal market base.
In February - gambling on the hope of cornering the market for the few but cult-like fans of obscure records, CDs, hard-to-find avant, and experimental music - Sawyer decided to launch a hole-in-the wall specialty record shop located next to trendy bars and ethnic restaurants in Central Square. Her clientele is mostly 25-60 year old male music seekers. “So far business has been great,” Sawyer said. “It’s been so busy that I can barely keep up with it.”
For the four months since Weirdo Record opened, sales continue to increase. “The only thing I can complain about is not being able to catch up on sleep. If that’s it, I’m living a pretty satisfying life,” Sawyer said.
Sawyer isn’t concerned about whether music piracy, record stores going under, or the fall of the music industry will affect her business. Just the same, statistics like those released by Almighty Institute of Music (a market firm) aren't encouraging: 3,100 record stores have closed since 2003.
“My niche is so tiny that it is hard for me to be worried about what happened in the record industry", Sawyer said. “It is so far away from me than, say, the White House is from a meter maid.”
Like many record storeowners, Sawyer is extensively knowledgeable. She had worked at local record shops for fifteen years when she decided to dabble with selling records online in 2006. “It was just for fun, it was just two steps over from a My Space page, no big deal,” said Sawyer. In nine months sales from her website were skyrocketing and her career working at somebody else's record store become her secondary source of income.
“The economy started to go to crap,” said Sawyer, “People were like, you got that other thing and you're not here any ways, so …I got let go.”
The selection of merchandise at Weirdo Records is nowhere near that of a Virgin Megastore or Best Buy, but unlike the "radio friendly" inventory within the giant corporate chains, most everything in Weirdo is truly unique. “If you’re curious and want to check out some weird stuff,” says Sawyer while updating her online record website, from industrial noise, "lost" victorola recordings, to modern avant classical, “several [record aesthetes] have spent a long time separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Sasha Clarin, a health care specialist believes Weirdo Record is doing well because it is more personal than shopping for music online. But like many consumers she likes the convenience of shopping at a local store and getting personal attention –something that is lacking at larger franchise record stores.
“The Internet is too big, going online is helpful for finding something specific, but when I need a person to help me figure out and discover the things I should be listening to I come here,” said Clarin, 31, carrying a canvas bag covered in promotional rock band buttons.
Frank Nell, a TV producer in Cambridge, said that even people who can’t afford to shop for new houses in the community could still shop at a local independent record store.
“You can go and buy a dinner out and there goes all your money,” said Nell as he pulled a record off the shelf, “But everyone can afford to spend an extra five bucks on an album that can make them a little happier.”
Sawyer is more than happy to recommend some great music to you. She is currently listening to world psychedelia from the sixties and experimental noise. “There are a lot of regular people who music isn’t a driving force of life, but for some it comes before food,” Sawyer said, “That is what this place is for.”